After several days of snow, the sun has finally come out. As you make your way into the local shopping mall, a surge of snow and ice melted by the warming temperatures slides off the roof or awning and hits you. You could suffer a back or shoulder injury or cuts to your face. In the worst-case scenario, such an avalanche could knock you out.
Perhaps you might be doing some canvassing for a political candidate you support or raising funds for a local community activity. You start up the sidewalk of a house, when suddenly a dog rushes from the backyard and bites you. There was no sign warning of a dog or that you needed to be careful.
You visit your favorite amusement park because you’re eager to try the new ride they were advertising. At first, you’re having a great time. But then the car travels across a section of track that has a malfunction, which throws you around awkwardly and you hurt your back.
These are all examples that could fit under what is known as premises liability law.
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What Is Premises Liability Law?
Premises liability is a legal concept used in personal injury cases when the injured party can prove they got hurt because of an unsafe situation or defective condition on another person’s property.
Liability is determined by the laws and procedures of the place where an injury occurred, and is different in each state.
- In some states, courts focus on the condition of the injured party in determining who is liable.
- Other states look more at the condition of the property where the injury occurred and what the owner and visitor were doing when the injury occurred.
- The definition of the property owner is also important. It basically means the person who was occupying the property in question. So if an accident occurs to a visitor in a rented apartment, the tenant is responsible, not the landlord.
The reason responsibility resides with the tenant, rather than the landlord, is that once the landlord has rented the apartment or building space, the renter is responsible for any physical injury a visitor suffers. Courts generally look at the situation this way because once the landlord has rented the apartment, they basically no longer have control over the premises. However, it is important to note there are numerous exceptions to this rule, and you should contact a lawyer to learn more.
What Is Duty of Care?
Much of any case involving a potential example of premises liability revolves around the notion of “duty of care.”
At its core, duty of care means you are required to act prudently toward the public with the attention and caution a reasonable person would exercise in any situation. But if your actions don’t meet this standard, what you’ve done can be considered negligent and be the basis for a lawsuit that will cost you a lot in damages.
Here’s an example: You own a store, and in the winter, you’ve been lazy about removing the ice and snow from your front door. Some people have mentioned it to you, but you think it’s all going to melt away on its own, so you don’t bother to put down any salt or sand to make it easier to walk on. Then one day a customer slips, falls and hurts themselves. That person could probably easily show you have neglected the idea of “duty of care,” and you would find yourself facing a premises liability lawsuit.
Several important factors play a role in determining a property owner’s duty of care responsibilities and whether or not they are open to a premises liability lawsuit.
- What were the circumstances facing the visitor when they visited the property?
- What is the property used for?
- Could the visitor have foreseen the possibility of an accident or an injury occurring?
- How hard did the property owner try to fix any dangerous situation or warn visitors to any problem?
What Kind of Personal Injuries Can Be Classified as Types of Premises Liability Cases?
There are numerous personal injuries that could fall under the rubric of premises liability, depending upon where and when they happened.
- Slips and falls
- Accidents on elevators or escalators
- Dog attacks or bites
- Accidents caused by snow or ice
- Accidents at amusement parks
- Accidents in or around swimming pools
- Exposure to toxic chemicals or fumes
- Negligent maintenance of a house or a building
- Defective conditions of a house or a building
- Injury or assault as a result of inadequate building security
In each of these cases, it is incumbent on the injured person to show the property owner was aware of, or should have known about, a potentially hazardous situation on his or her property, but took no steps to remedy any problems.
Another element that plays into the concept of premises liability is the status of the visitor.
What Does Status of the Visitor Mean?
In most states, someone who may be visiting a property falls into one of three categories.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these three categories.
- An invitee is someone who has the property owner’s direct or implied approval to enter their property — for example, if you invite someone to your home for dinner. If you own a store, invitees are the customers who frequent it. If you operate a museum, is the visitors who come each day. In other words, these are people you expect to visit the property. As a result, the duty of care you need to show these people is high.
- A licensee also has the property owner’s direct or implied approval to enter, but are coming to the property for purposes other than just visiting. Tradespeople of all kind fall into this category: electricians, plumbers, carpenters, delivery people, etc. Your level of duty of care with this category is not as high as with the invitee category, but you are still required to warn a licensee about any hazardous conditions if you are aware of them, and there is the chance they may not know about it until it’s too late to prevent an accident.
- A trespasser is just what it sounds like: someone who does not have your permission to be on your property. Normally you owe no duty of care to any trespasser, with one exception: children. For example, as you undoubtedly know from media reports, there have been many tragic incidents of children wandering onto ungated properties with swimming pools and falling in. This is a classic case of premises liability.
How Do I Know If My Injury Is a Result of Premises Liability?
So let’s look at common examples of when a personal injury may fall under the concept of premises liability.
Slips and falls are probably the most common kinds of premises liability. When visiting a friend’s house, you trip over the cord of the vacuum cleaner they forgot to put away and you suffer an injury. Or, in the example mentioned above, a store owner fails to remove snow or ice from the front of the building and you fall and suffer an injury.
There are several situations that can lead to slips or falls and premises liability.
- Broken or defective stairwells or staircases
- Slick or wet floors
- Unseen electrical cords
- Damaged thresholds
- Rugs and carpets not securely attached to floors
- Unrepaired sidewalks
- Loose steps or floorboards
Building security is another area where premises liability is a concern. Apartments or offices with inadequate building security face premises liability lawsuits if someone gets hurt or even killed because of that inadequate security. This is true whether someone breaks in or just walks in. If the injured person can prove the building’s owner did not provide adequate security, they can build a legal case against the property owner.
How Do I Prove the Property Owner Was Negligent?
As mentioned above, the evidence an injured party needs to provide to prove a case of premises liability differs from state to state, and we will look at how it applies particularly in Pennsylvania below. But if you have been injured, and you think the property owner is at fault, you should contact an injury lawyer as soon as possible.
Generally speaking, however, most injured parties need to prove four things.
- The person responsible for your injury owned or occupied the place where it occurred.
- This person did not meet their duty of care responsibilities in the use of the property, which means they were negligent.
- You were injured on this person’s property.
- Their negligence played a substantial role in you suffering an injury.
One of the most important parts of being able to prove this negligence is what is called foreseeability. It basically determines if the property owner could have foreseen any situation or condition that could cause an injury on his or her property. Foreseeability can limit the liability of the type of injury suffered, but not suffering caused by the injury itself.
It’s also important to mention the so-called “eggshell-skull rule” here. In many cases, a person who suffers a minor injury as a result of a property owner’s negligence would result in only a few thousand dollars’ worth of damages. But if the person suffering the injury has an underlying condition that is worsened by the act of negligence and needs extensive medical care as a result, the property owner is on the hook for the entire amount needed.
How Does the Law Work in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania defines premises liability in many of the ways we discussed above. There are three classes of visitors: invitees, licensees and trespassers. All the limits of liability we’ve already discussed apply in this case.
Properties where premises liability laws apply include both owned and rented residential structures, commercial facilities such as restaurants, amusement parks or retail outlets, as well as local, state and federal government offices.
Some of the defenses property owners will use to argue that they were not negligent include:
- Comparative negligence — The property owner will attempt to show you’re just as much at fault as he or she was. If the condition or situation that led to your injury was an obvious one that you should’ve known or foreseen, this can limit the property owner’s liability.
- Assumption of risk — If you know the property owner has been negligent or they have warned you about a potential problem, and you go ahead and enter their property and suffer an injury, it will be very difficult for you to recover any damages.
- Choice of ways. — If two roads diverged in the woods, so to speak, and you know one of them is dangerous and the other one is much safer, but you insist on taking the dangerous one and get hurt, you could be accused of contributory negligence — which, again, could limit or remove any damages.
Pennsylvania also differentiates between what is known as strict liability and negligence.
- A property owner who has a dangerous dog that attacked you when you visited is subject to strict liability. In this case, the property owner knew the dog was dangerous and didn’t warn you about the dog, but invited you over regardless.
- You’re visiting a store and you slip on a puddle of water and injure your knee. You need to be able to show the store employees knew about the puddle, but had not done anything about it. If the store owner can prove it would’ve been impossible for his or her employees to clean up the water before you slipped, it will be much harder to prove negligence and be awarded damages.
Pennsylvania also has a statute of limitations on premises liability cases. You have two years from the date of any injury you have suffered to file a lawsuit. If you fail to file a premises liability case in that time, you are forgoing any damages you might receive.
KBG Injury Law Can Help You If You’ve Been Injured
KBG Injury Law has experienced lawyers who know how to help you prepare a premises liability case if you’ve been injured in an accident on someone else’s property. Premises liability law can be complicated and tricky. Since it is up to the injured party to prove negligence, we can work with you to determine the factors that led to your injury and work to make sure you receive the damages you deserve.
To discuss having us represent you in a personal injury case, call 800-509-1011, or visit our website for a free consultation.